The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

A Magician Among the Spirits

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A Magician Among the Spirits (1924) dusjacket
A Magician Among the Spirits (1924)
A Magician Among the Spirits (1924) frontispiece
A Magician Among the Spirits (1924) title page

A Magician Among the Spirits is a book written by Harry Houdini published in 1924 by Harper & Brothers Publishers.

The chapter IX is fully dedicated to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Chapter IX. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

SPIRITUALISM has claimed among its followers numbers of brilliant minds-scientists, philosophers, professionals and authors. Whether these great minds have been misdirected, whether they have followed the subject because they were convinced fully of its truth, or whether they have been successfully hoodwinked by some fraudulent medium, are matters of conjecture and opinion; nevertheless they have been the means of bringing into the ranks of Spiritualism numbers of those who allow themselves to be led by minds greater and more powerful than their own.

Such a one is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His name comes automatically to the mind of the average human being to-day at the mention of Spiritualism. No statistician could fathom the influence he has exerted through his lectures and his writings or number the endless chain he guides into a belief in communication with the Realm Beyond. His faith and belief and confidence in the movement have been one of the greatest assets of present-day believers and whatever one's views on the subject, it is impossible not to respect the belief of this great author who has wholeheartedly and unflinchingly thrown his life and soul into the conversion of unbelievers. Sir Arthur believes. In his great mind there is no doubt.

He is a brilliant man, a deep thinker, well versed in every respect, and comes of a gifted family. His grand-father, John Doyle, was born in Dublin in 1797. He won popularity and fame in London with his caricatures of prominent people. Many of his original drawings are now preserved in the museum under the title "H. B. Caricatures." He died in 1868. An uncle of Sir Arthur's was the famous "Dicky Doyle," the well-known cartoonist of Punch and designer of the familiar cover of that magazine. In his later years he became prominent as an illustrator, making drawings for The Newcomes in 1853, and becoming especially successful in illustrating such fairy stories as Hunt's "Jar of Honey," Ruskin's "King of the Golden River," and Montelbas' "Fairy Tales of all Nations." The fact that he leaned toward Spiritualism is not generally known. Sir Arthur's father, Charles A. Doyle, was also an artist of great talent though not in a commercial way. His home life is beautiful and Lady Doyle has told me on numerous occasions that he never loses his temper and that his nature is at all times sunshiny and sweet. His children are one hundred per cent children in every way and it is beautiful to note the affection between the father, mother and the children. He is a great reader who absorbs what he reads but he believes what he sees in print only if it is favorable to Spiritualism.

The friendship of Sir Arthur and myself dates back to the time when I was playing the Brighton Hippodrome, Brighton, England. We had been corresponding and had discussed through the medium of the mail, questions regarding Spiritualism. He invited Mrs. Houdini and myself to the Doyle home in Crowborough, England, and in that way an acquaintanceship was begun which has continued ever since. Honest friendship is one of life's most precious treasures and I pride myself in thinking that we have held that treasure sacred in every respect. During all these years we have exchanged clippings which we thought might be of mutual interest and on a number of occasions have had an opportunity to discuss them in person. Our degree of friendship may be judged best from the following letter of Sir Arthur's.


15 Buckingham Palace Mansion,
S. W. 1
March 8, 1923.
My dear Houdini:—
For goodness' sake take care of those dangerous stunts of yours. You have done enough of them. I speak because I have just read of the death of the "Human Fly." [1] Is it worth it?
Yours very sincerely,
A. CONAN DOYLE.


It would be difficult to determine just when Sir Arthur and I first discussed Spiritualism, but from that talk to the present we have never agreed upon it. Our viewpoints differ; we do not believe the same thing. I know that he treats Spiritualism as a religion. He believes that it is possible and that he can communicate with the dead. According to his marvellous analytical brain he has had proof positive of this. There is no doubt that Sir Arthur is sincere in his belief and it is this sincerity which has been one of the fundamentals of our friendship. I have respected everything he has said and I have always been unbiased, because at no time have I refused to follow the subject with an open mind. I cannot say the same for him for he has refused to discuss the matter in any other voice except that of Spiritualism and in all our talks quoted only those who favored it in every way, and if one does not follow him sheep-like during his investigations then he is blotted out forever so far as Sir Arthur is concerned. Unfortunately he uses the reasoning, so common among Spiritualists, that no matter how often mediums are caught cheating he believes the only reason for it is that they have overstepped their bounds and resorted to trickery in an effort to convince. I wonder if some day Sir Arthur will forget that he is a Spiritualist and argue a case of trickery with the sound logic of an outsider. I firmly believe that if he ever does he will see and acknowledge some of his errors. I am ready to believe in Sir Arthur's teachings if he can convince me beyond the shadow of a doubt that his demonstrations are genuine.

There is no doubt in my mind, Sir Arthur believes implicitly in the mediums with whom he has convened and he knows positively, in his own mind, they are all genuine: Even if they are caught cheating he always has some sort of an alibi which excuses the medium and the deed. He insists that the Fox Sisters were genuine, even though both Margaret and Katie confessed to fraud and explained how and why they became mediums and the methods used by them to produce the raps.

"Like Caesar's wife — always above suspicion," Hope and Mrs. Dean pass in his category as genuine mediums. He has often told me that Palladino [2] and Home some day would be canonized for the great work they did in the interest of Spiritualism, even though they were both exposed time and time again. In all gravity he would say to me, "Look what they did to Joan of Arc." To Sir Arthur it is a matter of most sacred moment. It is his religion, and he would invariably tell me what a cool observer he was and how hard it would be to fool him, or in any way deceive him. [3] He told me that he did not believe any of "the nice old lady mediums" would do anything wrong and it was just as unlikely for some old gentleman, innocent as a child unborn, to resort to trickery. But there comes to my mind the notorious Mrs. Catherine Nicol and her two daughters who were continuously getting in and out of the law's net, usually breaking the heads of a few detectives in the process. Among the "nice old lady" mediums might be mentioned a prominent medium of Boston who was accused of taking unlawfully from one of her believers over eight thousand dollars in cash.

Another case was that of a medium who received $1,000 from a man in Baltimore for the privilege of a few minutes' chat with the Spirit of his dead wife. He later sued her for fraud. Later she was exposed while giving a seance in Paris, but after a few years she appeared in New York City.

At this time Asst. District Attorney Krotel asked that she be brought into court to answer to a charge of selling California mining stock to her followers through the advice of certain disembodied Spirits. The stock was found to be worthless.

There was also a woman, who was arrested and convicted for vagrancy in Seattle and numerous other cases, such as that of Katie King of Philadelphia in 1875; however, no matter how many cases I cited, it did not seem to make any impression on Sir Arthur.

I had known for some time that a number of people wanted to draw Doyle into a controversy. When I saw Sir Arthur I told him to be careful of his statements and explained a number of pitfalls he could avoid. Nevertheless, despite my warnings, he would say: "That's all right, Houdini, don't worry about me, I am well able to take care of myself. They cannot fool me." To which I would reply he had no idea of the subtleness of some of the people who were trying to draw his fire.

When I called Sir Arthur's attention to the number of people who have gone crazy on the subject because of persistent reading, continuous attendance at seances and trying automatic writing, his answer would be: "People have been going mad [4] for years, and you will find on investigation that many go mad on other subjects besides Spiritualism." On being reminded that most of these people hear voices and see visions, he denied that they were hallucinations, and insisted that he had spoken to different members of his family. [5]

I recall several flagrant instances in which Sir Arthur's faith has, I think, misguided him. One particular time was when he attended a public seance by a lady known as "The Medium in the Mask." Among those present at the time was Lady Glenconner, Sir Henry Lunn and Mr. Sidney A. Mosley, a special representative of a newspaper.

According to reports, the medium wore a veil like a "yashmak." She appeared very nervous. A number of articles, including a ring that had belonged to Sir Arthur's deceased son, were put in a box, and the medium correctly gave the initials on the ring, although Sir Arthur said that they could hardly be discerned, even in a good light, they were so worn off. [6]

Later in describing another article, the medium said the words, "Murphy" and "button" and it was afterwards explained that "Murphy's button" was a surgical operation term. She said that the person described would die as a result of the operation. Unfortunately, for the medium, no one present knew of such a case and yet, Sir Arthur described this seance as very clever. [7]

The "Masked Lady" was sponsored by a theatrical agent and illusionist and all proceedings of the seances were brought to light in a suit against Mr. George Grossman and Mr. Edward Laurillard, theatrical producers, to recover damages for breach of agreement to place a West End theatre at his disposal.

Accounts of mediums by the name of "Thompson" have misled several people. There is a Thompson of New York and a Thomson of Chicago. Sir Arthur had a seance with the Thompsons of New York and according to all the news clippings I have had they claimed to have brought back his mother. In fact it was stated that he asked permission to kiss his mother's hand.

The Thomsons got into trouble in Chicago and New Orleans also. [8] As a matter of fact I was in Chicago when their trial took place. I had been present at two of their seances. The first was in New York at the Morosco Theatre and I had all I could do to keep J. F. Rinns from breaking up the performance. The second was in Chicago. It was a special seance given after my performance at the Palace Theatre. I was accompanied by H. H. Windsor, Publisher and Editor of Popular Mechanics; Oliver R. Barrett, a prominent member of the bar; Mr. Husband Manning, author; and Leonard Hicks, a well-known hotel proprietor. Among others present at the seance were Cyrus McCormick, Jr., Muriel McCormick, and Mrs. McCormick McClintock. We witnessed a number of unsatisfactory phenomena and afterwards adjourned to the home of Cyrus McCormick and discussed the seance, being unanimously of the opinion that it was a glaring fraud just as I had believed the one in New York to be.

At the Morosco Theatre, New York City, the Thomsons made the broad statement that they had been tested by Stead and Sir Oliver Lodge and at a special seance he had come out and publicly endorsed Mrs. Thomson as being genuine. The following letter not only disproves this but explains the feeling of an active Spiritualist toward the Thomsons.


Normanton,
Lake,
Salisbury.
7th January 1921.
Dear Mr. Houdini:—
It is a pleasure to hear from you, and I thank you for asking the question about the Thomsons. I have replied to one or two other queries of the same kind, but I would be grateful if you would make it known that any statement that I have vouched for their genuineness, is absolutely false.
I only saw them once, at a time when they called themselves Tomson. It was at Mr. Stead's house, at his urgent request. I considered the performance fraudulent, but the proof was not absolutely complete because the concluding search was not allowed, and the gathering dispersed in disorder, or at least with some heat. "I felt sorry at this termination, and it is just possible that Thomson genuinely thought I was favourably impressed. That is the charitable view to take, but it is not the true view, and Mr. Stead was annoyed with me because of my skeptical attitude. (He has since admitted to me, from the other side, that he was wrong and I was right; bringing the subject up spontaneously. This latter statement, however, is not evidence.)
What I should like the public to be assured of, is that I was not favourably impressed, and never vouched for them in any way.
I am afraid I must assume that Thomson is aware of that, and therefore is not acting in good faith, because once in England the same sort of statement was made, either at Leicester or at Nottingham I think, and I wrote to a paper to contradict it.
With all good wishes believe me,
Faithfully yours,
(Signed) OLIVER LODGE.


Sir Arthur personally told me that he was convinced of the genuineness of the Welsh miners of Cardiff, or Thomas Brothers. Stuart Cumberland who was infinitely my superior in investigation (he had a start of 20 years) told me that there wasn't a chance of the Thomas Brothers being genuine, and related how, owing to the great interest of Sir Arthur in them, the London Daily Express eventually induced them to hold a seance before a committee of investigators. Cumberland was to have been one of the committee, but the mediums refused to allow him to be "Among those present." As they refused to proceed if Cumberland was admitted, it was thought advisable to eliminate him. Before leaving, Cumberland arranged the musical instruments that were used and instructed the investigating committee how to detect fraud. The feature of the seance was the passing along in the circle, of a button and a pair of suspenders, which were thrown on the knees of a news Editor present. I ask the commonsense reader what benefit this would be — to project a button clear across the room and to find a pair of suspenders on a sitter's knee? If there is any object lesson in this, please let me know!

At the seance, Lady Doyle was asked whether she was cold, on answering in the affirmative a holland jacket which had been worn by the medium was dropped in her lap. The Thomas Brothers claimed this had been done by the Spirits. When the seance was over, the medium was found bound hut minus his coat.

When I quizzed Sir Arthur about the manner in which the Thomas Brothers of Cardiff were bound during a seance which he attended, he told me that they were secured so tightly that it was impossible for them to move as they were absolutely helpless. I told him that did not make it genuine, for any number of mediums had been tied the same way and had managed to free themselves. He replied that I might be able to release myself by natural means, but that mediums do not have to, as they always receive Spiritual help. Maybe so, but I should like, sometime, to tie them myself and see whether the Spirits could release them under test conditions. [9]

I reminded Sir Arthur of the Davenport Brothers and called to his attention the fact that they were able to release themselves. Sir Arthur feels very strongly in the matter of the Davenport Brothers and although I have told him and proven to him that I was a pupil of Ira Erastus Davenport and that Ira personally told me that they did not claim to be Spiritualists and their performances were not given in the name of Spiritualism, Sir Arthur insists that they were Spiritualists and has strongly said that if they did their performances under any other name, then Ira was "not only a liar, but a blasphemer as he went around with Mr. Ferguson, a clergyman, and mixed it all up with religion."

I want to go on record that to the best of my knowledge and belief I never stated that Sir Arthur endorsed the mediumship of the New York Thompsons. I did say there were full page articles [10] where he was illustrated as accepting the genuineness of the materialization of his mother. I never claimed that Sir Arthur's son or brother came through the Thomas mediums in Cardiff. I did state that Sir Arthur said they were genuine and that they, the mediums, were helpless to move because he had tied them and in his judgment if they were tied in my presence I would be convinced of their genuineness. I wish to call attention to the fact that in a letter written by the late Stuart Cumberland he agreed with me that there was not a vestige of truth in the mediumship of the Thomas Brothers, and regarding Sir Arthur's endorsement of the "Masked Lady," I did not say he endorsed her although I should judge from newspaper [11] accounts he seemed very much impressed.

Sir Arthur has rarely given me an opportunity to deny or affirm any statement. In fact one of our sore points of discussion has been the matter of being quoted, or misquoted, t in newspapers or periodicals and it seems that Sir Arthur always believes everything I have been quoted as having said. When I was in Oakland, California, I was interviewed by a Mr. Henderson of the Oakland Tribune. I gave him some material to work on, enough for one article from which, to my surprise, he wrote a series of eight articles enlarging and misquoting to an "nth" degree. Sir Arthur took exception to a number of statements which I was supposed to have made and he replied to them caustically through the press and then sent me the following letter in explanation.


THE AMBASSADOR
Los Angeles
May 23, 1923.
My dear Houdini:—
I have had to handle you a little roughly in the Oakland Tribune because they send me a long screed under quotation marks, so it is surely accurate. It is so full of errors that I don't know where to begin. I can't imagine why you say such wild things which have no basis in fact at all. I put the Thompsons down as humbugs. I never heard of my son or brother through the Thomas brothers. They were never exposed. 1 never said that Masked Medium was genuine. I wish you would refer to me before publishing such injurious stuff which I have to utterly contradict. I would always tell you the exact facts as I have done with the Zancigs.
Yours sincerely,
A. Conan Doyle.


I hate sparring with a friend in public, but what can I do when you say things which are not correct, and which I have to contradict or else they go by default. It is the same with all this ridiculous stuff of Rinn's. Unless I disprove it, people imagine it is true.
A. C. D.


At the written invitation of Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle Mrs. Houdini and I visited them while they were stopping at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City. One day as Sir Arthur, Mrs. Houdini and I were sitting on the sand skylarking with the children Sir Arthur excused himself saying that he was going to have his usual afternoon nap. He left us but returned in a short time and said "Houdini, if agreeable, Lady Doyle will give you a special seance, as she has a feeling that she might have a message come through. At any rate, she is willing to try," and turning to Mrs. Houdini he said, "we would like to he alone. You do not mind if we make the experiment without you." Smilingly, my good little wife said, "Certainly not, go right ahead, Sir Arthur; I will leave Houdini in your charge and I know that he will be willing to go to the seance." Doyle said, "You understand, Mrs. Houdini. that this will be a test to see whether we can make any Spirit come through for Houdini, and conditions may prove better if no other force is present."

Before leaving with Sir Arthur, Mrs. Houdini cued me. We did a second sight or mental performance years ago and still use a system or code whereby we can speak to each other in the presence of others, even though to all outward appearances we are merely talking, pointing or doing the most innocent looking things, but which have different meanings to us.

In that manner Mrs. Houdini told me that on the night previous she had gone into detail with Lady Doyle about the great love I bear for my Mother. She related to her a number of instances, such as, my returning home from long trips, sometimes as far away as Australia, and spending months with my Mother and wearing only the clothes that she had given me, because I thought it would please her and give her some happiness. My wife also remarked about my habit of laying my head on my Mother's breast, in order to hear her heart beat. Just little peculiarities that mean so much to a mother and son when they love one another as we did.

I walked with Sir Arthur to the Doyles' suite. Sir Arthur drew down the shades so as to exclude the bright light. We three, Lady Doyle, Sir Arthur and I, sat around the table on which were a number of pencils and a writing pad, placing our hands on the surface of the table. Sir Arthur started the seance with a devout prayer. I had made up my mind that I would be as religious as it was within my power to be and not at any time did I scoff at the ceremony. I excluded all earthly thoughts and gave my whole soul to the seance.

I was willing to believe, even wanted to believe. It was weird to me and with a beating heart I waited, hoping that I might feel once more the presence of my beloved Mother. If there ever was a son who idolized and worshipped his Mother, whose every thought was for her happiness and comfort, that son was myself. My Mother meant my life, her happiness was synonymous with my peace of mind. For that reason, if no other, I wanted to give my very deepest attention to what was going on. It meant to me an easing of all pain that I had in my heart. I especially wanted to speak to my Mother, because that day, June 17, 1922, was her birthday. [12] I was determined to embrace Spiritualism if there was any evidence strong enough to down the doubts that have crowded my brain for the past thirty years.

Presently, Lady Doyle was "seized by a Spirit." Her hands shook and beat the table, her voice trembled and she called to the Spirits to give her a message. Sir Arthur tried to quiet her, asked her to restrain herself, but her hand thumped on the table, her whole body shook and at last, making a cross at the head of the page. started writing. And as she finished each page, Sir Arthur tore the sheet off and handed it to me. I sat serene through it all, hoping and wishing that I might feel my mother's presence. There wasn't even a semblance of it. Everyone who has ever had a worshipping Mother and has lost earthly touch, knows the feeling which will come over him at the thought of sensing her presence.

The letter which follows, purported to have come from my Mother, I cannot, as much as I desire, accept as having been written or inspired by the soul or Spirit of my sweet Mother.

"Oh, my darling, thank God, thank God, at last I'm through — I've tried, oh, so often — now I am happy. Why, of course I want to talk to my boy — my own beloved boy — Friends, thank you, with all my heart for this."—

"You have answered the cry of my heart — and of his — God bless him — a thousandfold for all his life for me — never had a Mother such a son — tell him not to grieve — soon he'll get all the evidence he is so anxious for — Yes we know — tell him I want him to try and write in his own home. It will be far better."

"I will work with him — he is so, so dear to me — I am preparing so sweet a home for him in which some day in God's good time he will come to it, is one of my great joys preparing for our future."

"I am so happy in this life-it is so full and joyous — my only shadow has been that my beloved one hasn't known how often I have been with him all the while, all the while — here away from my heart's darling — combining my work thus in this life of mine."

"It is so different over here, so much larger and bigger and more beautiful — so lofty — all sweetness around one — nothing that hurts and we see our beloved ones on earth — that is such a joy and comfort to us — Tell him I love him more than ever — the years only increase it — and his goodness fills my soul with gladness and thankfulness. Oh, just this, it is me. I want him only to know that — that — I have bridged the gulf — is what I wanted, oh, so much — I can rest in peace — how soon—"

"I always read my beloved son's mind-his dear mind — there is so much I want to say to him-hut — I am almost overwhelmed by this joy of talking to him once more — it is almost too much to get through — the joy of it — thank you, thank you, friend, with all my heart for what you have done for me this day — God bless you, too, Sir Arthur, for what you are doing for us-for us, over here-who so need to get in touch with our beloved ones on the earth plane—"

"If only the world knew this great truth — how different life would be for men and women-Go on let nothing stop you — great will be your reward hereafter — Good-by — I brought you, Sir Arthur, and my son together — I felt you were the only man who might help us to pierce this veil — and I was right — Bless him, bless him, bless him, I say, from the depths of my soul — he fills my heart and later we shall be together — Oh so happy — a happiness awaits him that he has never dreamed of — tell him I am with him — just tell him that I'll soon make him know how close I am all the while-his eyes will soon be opened — Good-by again — God's blessing on you all."

In the case of my seance, Sir Arthur believed that due to the great excitement it was a direct connection.

The more so do I hesitate to believe and accept the above letter because, although my sainted mother had been in America for almost fifty years, she could not speak, read nor write English but Spiritualists claim that when a medium is possessed by a Spirit who does not speak the language, she automatically writes, speaks or sings in the language of the deceased; however, Sir Arthur has told me that a Spirit becomes more educated the longer it is departed and that my blessed Mother had been able to master the English language in Heaven.

After the purported letter from my Mother had been written and I had read it over very carefully, Sir Arthur advised me to follow out the advice, given by my Mother, — to try to write when I reached home.

I picked up a pencil in a haphazard manner and said, "Is there any particular way in which I must hold this pencil when I want to write, or does it write automatically?" I then wrote the name of "Powell" entirely of my own volition. Sir Arthur jumped up excitedly and read what I had just written. He saw the word "Powell" and said, "The Spirits have directed you in writing the name of my dear fighting partner in Spiritualism, Dr. Ellis Powell, who has just died in England. I am the person he is most likely to signal to, and here is his name coming through your hands. Truly Saul is among the Prophets."

I must emphatically state that this name was written entirely of my own volition and in full consciousness. I had in my mind, my friend Frederick Eugene Powell, the American Magician, with whom at the time I was having a great deal of correspondence regarding a business proposition which has since been consummated. There is not the slightest doubt of it having been more than a deliberate mystification on my part, or let us say a kindlier word regarding my thoughts and call it "coincidence."

A few days later Sir Arthur sent me the following letter in reference to my explanation of the writing of the name, "Powell."


The Ambassador,
New York,
June 20th, 1922.
My dear Houdini:—
... No, the Powell explanation, won't do. Not only is he the one man who would wish to get me, but in the evening, Mrs. M., the lady medium, got, "there is a man here. He wants to say that he is sorry he had to speak so abruptly this afternoon." The message was then broken by your Mother's renewed message and so we got no name. But it confirms me in the belief that it was Powell. However, you will no doubt test your powers further.
(Signed) "A. Conan Doyle."


I had written an article for the New York Sun, October 30, 1922, which gave my views in reference to Spiritualism and at the same time answered the challenge offered by the General Assembly of Spiritualists of New York State. This had been called to the attention of Sir Arthur, who wrote as follows:


Windlesham,
Crowhorough,
Sussex.
November 19, 1922.
My dear Houdini:—
They sent me the New York Sun with your article and no doubt wanted me to answer it, hut I have no fancy for sparring with a friend in public, so I took no notice.
But none the less, I felt rather sore about it. You have all the right in the world to hold your own opinion, hut when you say that you have had no evidence of survival, you say what I cannot reconcile with what I saw with my own eyes. I know, by many examples, the purity of my wife's mediumship, and I saw what you got and what the effect was upon you at the time. You know also you yourself at once wrote down, with your own hand, the name of Powell, the one man who might he expected to communicate with me. Unless you were joking when you said that you did not know of this Powell's death, then surely that was evidential, since the idea that out of all your friends you had chanced to write the name of one who exactly corresponded, would surely be too wonderful a coincidence.
However, I don't propose to discuss this subject any more with you, for I consider that you have had your proofs and that the responsibility of accepting or rejecting is with you. As it is a very real lasting responsibility. However, I have it at last, for I have done my best to give you the truth. I will, however, send you my little book, on the fraud perpetrated upon Hope, but that will be my last word on the subject. Meanwhile, there are lots of other subjects on which we can all meet in friendly converse.
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) "A. Conan Doyle."


To which I replied:—


December 15, 1922.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
Windlesham,
Crowborough,
Sussex.
My dear Sir Arthur:—
Received your letter regarding my article in the New York Sun. You write that you are very sore. I trust that it is not with me, because you, having been truthful and manly all your life, naturally must admire the same traits in other human beings.
I know you are honorable and sincere and think I owe you an explanation regarding the letter I received through the hands of Lady Doyle.
I was heartily in accord and sympathy at that seance but the letter was written entirely in English and my sainted Mother could not read, write or speak the English language. I did not care to discuss it at the time because of my emotion in trying to sense the presence of my Mother, if there was such a thing possible, to keep me quiet until time passed, and I could give it the proper deduction.
Regarding my having written the name 'Powell.' Frederick Eugene Powell is a very dear friend of mine. He had just passed through two serious operations. Furthermore Mrs. Powell had a paralytic stroke at that time. I was having some business dealings with him which entailed a great deal of correspondence; therefore, naturally, his name was uppermost in my mind and I cannot make myself believe that my hand was guided by your friend. It was just a coincidence.
I trust my clearing up of the seance, from my point of view is satisfactory, and that you do not harbor any ill feelings, because I hold both Lady Doyle and yourself in the highest esteem. I know you treat this as a religion but personally I cannot do so, for up to the present time I have never seen or heard anything that could convert me.
Trusting you will accept my letter in the same honest, good faith feeling as it has been written.
With best wishes to Lady Doyle, yourself and the family, in which Mrs. Houdini joins,
Sincerely yours,
(Signed) Houdini.


In January 1923, the Scientific American issued a challenge of $2500. to the first person to produce a psychic photograph under test conditions. An additional $2500. was offered to the first person who, under the test conditions, defined, and to the satisfaction of the judges named, produced an objective psychic manifestation of physical character as defined, and of such sort that permanent instrumental record may be made of its occurrence.

The committee named were: Dr. William McDougall, D.Sc., Professor of Psychology at Harvard; Daniel Frisk Comstock, Ph.D., former member of the Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Walter Franklin Prince, Ph.D., Principal Research Officer for the S. P. R.; Hereward Carrington, Ph.D., Psychic Investigator; J. Malcolm Bird, Member of the Scientific American Staff; and myself. [13]

Sir Arthur's letter is self-explanatory.


Windlesham,
Crowborough,
Sussex.
January 1, 1923.
My dear Houdini:—
... I see that you are on the Scientific American Committee, but how can it be called an Impartial Committee when you have committed yourself to such statements as that some Spiritualists pass away before they realize how they have been deluded, etc? You have every possible right to hold such an opinion, but you can't sit on an Impartial Committee afterwards. It becomes biased at once. What I wanted was five good clear-headed men who can push to it without any prejudice at all, like the Dialectical Society [14] of London, who unanimously endorsed the phenomena.
Once more all greetings,
(Signed) A CONAN DOYLE.


On May 21, 22 and 24 the Scientific American held their first test seances. The permanent sitters were Mr. Walker, Mr. Lescurboura, Mr. J. Malcolm Bird of the Editorial staff of the Scientific American, Mr. Owen of the Times, Mr. Granville Lehrmann of the American Telephone and Telegraph and Richard I. Worrell, a friend of the medium. Drs. Carrington and Prince of the Committee of Judges sat on Monday. Dr. Prince and myself on Thursday. On Tuesday the Committee was represented by Mr. Frederick Keating, conjuror.

The medium, a man by the name of George Valentine of Wilkes-Barre, Penn., claimed to be genuine. He was trapped by being seated on a chair which was so arranged that when he arose an electric light arrangement was fixed in the room adjoining, together with dictographs and a phosphorous button. In the estimation of the Committee, Mr. Valentine was just a common, ordinary trickster.

Lady Doyle, Miss Juliet Karcher, Mrs. Houdini, Sir Arthur and I were lunching at the Royal Automobile Club in London, May 11, 1920, and Sir Arthur called attention to the fact that a few days previously they had been sitting at the same table with a powerful medium, and he told me in a very serious tone, which was corroborated by Lady Doyle, that the table started to move all around the place to the astonishment of the waiter, who was not aware of the close proximity of the medium.

All the time he was relating it, I watched him closely and saw that both he and Lady Doyle were most sincere and believed what they had told me to be an actual fact. There are times when I almost doubt the sincerity of some of Sir Arthur's statements, even though I do not doubt the sincerity of his belief.

I have been over a number of letters which I have received from Sir Arthur during the last few years and selected the following excerpts which show his viewpoint regarding many of the matters we have discussed.

"I do not wonder that they put you down as an occult. As I read the accounts I do not see how you do it. You must be a brave man as well as exceptionally dexterous."

"How you get out of the diving suits beats me, but the whole thing beats me completely."

"I spoke of the Davenport Brothers. Your word on the matter knowing, as you do both the man and the possibilities of his art, would be final."

"You are to me a perpetual mystery. No doubt you are to everyone."

"In a fair light I saw my dead Mother as clearly as I ever saw her in life. I am a cool observer and I do not make mistakes. It was wonderful — but it taught me nothing I did not know before."

"Our best remembrances to your wife and yourself. For God's sake be careful in those fearsome feats of yours. You ought to be able to retire now."

"These clairvoyants whose names I have given you are passive agents in themselves and powerless. If left to themselves they guess and muddle — as they sometimes do, when the true connection is formed, all is clear. That connection depends on the forces beyond, which are repelled by frivolity or curiosity but act under the impulse of sympathy."

"I see that you know a great deal about the negative side of Spiritualism."

"If you think of a lost friend before going to a seance and breathe a prayer that you may be allowed to get in touch you will have a chance — otherwise none. It really does depend upon psychic or mental vibrations and harmonies."

"I fear there is much fraud among American mediums where Spiritualism s~ems to have deservedly fallen into disrepute. Even when genuine it is used for stock exchange, and other base worldly purposes. No wonder it has sunk low in the very land that was honored by the first Spiritual manifestations of the series."

"You certainly have very wonderful powers, whether inborn or acquired."

"I envy you the privilege of having met Ira Davenport."

"Most of our great mediums at present are unpaid amateurs, inaccessible to any but Spiritualists."

"Something must come your way if you really persevere and get it out of your mind that you should follow it as a terrier follows a rat."

"Mental harmony does not in the least abrogate common sense."

"I heard of your remarkable feat in Bristol. My dear chap, why do you go around the world seeking a demonstration of the occult when you are giving one all the time?"

"I know Hope to be a true psychic and will give you my reasons when I treat it, but you can give no man a blank check for honesty on every particular occasion, whether there is a temptation to hedge when psychic power runs low is a question to be considered. I am for an uncompromising honesty-but also for thorough examination based on true knowledge."

"I am amused by your investigation with the Society for Psychical Research. Have they never thought of investigating you?"

"It was good of you to give those poor invalids a show and you will find yourself in the third sphere alright with your dear wife, world without end, whatever you may believe."

"Incredulity seems to me to be a sort of insanity under the circumstances." This was in reference to some photographs of ectoplasm which I questioned.

"This talk of 'fake' is in most cases nonsense and shows our own imperfect knowledge of conditions and of the ways of Controls, who often take short cuts to their ends, having no regard at all to our critical idea."

"Our opponents talk of one failure and omit a great series of successes. However, truth wins and there is lots of time."

"I never let a pressman (newspaper man) get away with it with impunity if I can help it." [15]

"Our relations are certainly curious and likely to become more so, for as long as you attack what I know from experience to be true I have no alternative but to attack you in turn. How long a private friendship can survive such an ordeal I do not know, but at least I did not create the situation."

"You have a reputation among Spiritualists of being a bitterly prejudiced enemy who would make trouble if it were possible — I know this is not so."

On page 150 of Sir Arthur's book "Our American Adventure" he says:

"Houdini is not one of those shallow men who imagine they can explain away Spiritual phenomena as parlor tricks, but he retains an open-and ever, I think, a more receptive — mind toward mysteries which are beyond his art. He understands, I hope, that to get truth in the matter you have not to sit as a Sanhedrim of Judgement, like the Circle of Conjurors in London, since Spiritual truth does not come as a culprit to a bar, but you must submit in a humble spirit to psychic conditions and so go forth, making most progress when on your knees."

Sir Arthur has told me time and time again that his whole life is based upon the subject of Spiritualism and that he has sacrificed some of the best years of his life to the betterment and spread of the cause, which, due to his sincerity, is a beautiful faith. [16] But in my opinion it is no "sacrifice" to convince people who have recently suffered a bereavement of the possibility and reality of communicating with their dear ones. To me the poor suffering followers eagerly searching for relief from the heart-pain that follows the passing on of a dear one are the "sacrifice."

Sir Arthur thinks that I have great mediumistic powers and that some of my feats are done with the aid of spirits. Everything I do is accomplished by material means, humanly possible, no matter how baffling it is to the layman. He says that I do not enter a seance in the right frame of mind, that I should be more submissive, but in all the seances I have attended I have never had a feeling of antagonism. I have no desire to discredit Spiritualism; I have no warfare with Sir Arthur; I have no fight with the Spiritists; but I do believe it is my duty, for the betterment of humanity, to place frankly before the public the results of my long investigation of Spiritualism. I am willing to be convinced; my mind is open, but the proof must be such as to leave no vestige of doubt that what is claimed to be done is accomplished only through or by supernatural power. So far I have never on any occasion, in all the seances I have attended, seen anything which would lead me to credit a mediumistic performance with supernatural aid, nor have I ever seen anything which has convinced me that it is possible to communicate with those who have passed out of this life. Therefore I do not agree with Sir Arthur.





Houdini's notes:

  1. On March 5, 1993, Harry F. Young, known as "The Human Fly," fell ten stories from a window ledge of the Hotel Martinique, New York City. He succumbed before he reached the hospital. For the benefit of those who do not know, "A Human Fly" is an acrobat who makes a specialty of scaling tall buildings, simply clinging to the apertures or crevices of the outward architecture of such building for the edification of an assembled throng, for which he receives a plate collection, a salary or is engaged especially for publicity purposes. It Is not a very lucrative profession and its dangers are many.
  2. On April 14, 1922, in New York City, Sir Arthur, according to his book, "Our American Adventure," attended a seance given by a young Italian by the name of Pecoraro. During the seance the name Palladino was given and he was told that the famous medium was present. A voice from the cabinet, supposedly Palladino's, said, "I, who used to call back the Spirits, now come back as a Spirit myself," to which Sir Arthur answered, "Palladino, we send you our love and our best encouragement." However, the force was broken by "the absurd and vile dancing of the table," and there was no physical manifestation. This shows Sir Arthur's will to excuse even Palladino, who was on numerous occasions exposed as a fraudulent medium.
  3. ALL Spiritualists say that.
  4. Dr. A. T. Schofield wrote in the Daily Sketch, February 9, 1920, that thousands of persons were estimated by a famous mental specialist to have been driven to the asylum through Spiritualism. A truly pitiful record.
  5. Letter from Sir Arthur to H. H. (dated April 2, 1920): "I have had very conclusive evidence since my two books were written. Six times I have spoken face to face with my son, twice with my brother and once with my nephew, all beyond doubt in their own voices and on private matters, so for me there is not, nor has been for a long time, any doubt. I know it is true, but we can't communicate that certainty to others. It will Come — or not, according to how far we work for it. It is the old axiom, 'Seek and ye shall find.'"
  6. Report of trial before Mr. Justice Darling — Morning Post, July 16, 1920.
  7. I have it on the positive word of Stuart Cumberland, who was at one of the seances of the "Masked Medium" and he gave me definite specifications and positive facts of the reading of the initials in the ring submitted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the "Masked Medium" whom he said possessed remarkable powers. Stuart Cumberland told me a number of ways this feat could be done. Among them, the black boxes were exchanged surreptitiously in the dark, and then brought back. It is an easy thing to present a box for inspection and yet have false compartments in it so that the contents will fall out. It was only after the methods were told innumerable times to Sir Arthur that he condemned it as a fraud.
  8. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 9, 1923, Clarence Thomson, self-styled missionary, President and member of the Board of Directors of the International Psychical Association, was fined $25 and sentenced to serve 30 days in jail. He admitted he had been arrested in Chicago and Kansas City for conducting seances, but said he had been honorably discharged.
  9. Other performers are doing this feat. I have performed it regularly for thirty years without any supernatural power whatever.
  10. These articles were syndicated, New York American, Sept. 3rd, 1922.
  11. Morning Post, July 16, 1920.
  12. This was not known to Lady Doyle. If it had been my Dear Mother's Spirit communicating a message, she, knowing her birthday was my most holy holiday, surely would have commented on it.
  13. So far, all of the several seances(of investigation held under the auspices of the Scientific American, have failed in proving the existence of supernatural power or force, such as might with logical consistency be conceded as psychic. Valentine, the Wilkesbarre medium, proved to be a failure. Rev. (?) Jessie K. Stewart the same. Mrs. Elizabeth Allen Tomson of Chicago, a complete fiasco, not possessing sufficient courage to attempt a sitting other than under conditions and in a place prescribed by herself. And lastly the Italian lad, Nino Pecoraro, has accomplished nothing beyond the possibility of human exertion, and failed utterly in so doing when securely fettered, as proved to be the case, when I personally did the tying. And from the results gotten thus far from the series of sittings with this "medium" it is safe to predict that the final analysis will place him in the same category as all others to date.
  14. According to Spiritualisic publications The Dialectical Society never made a full report. The "Reports" of sub-committees only were published by Spiritualist papers used by writers in books but such reports were based on "hear-say" evidence taken from Spiritists. They told their ghost stories to Committees and they were believed. There never was a unanimous report or conclusion. The non-Spiritual (?) members of the Dialectical Society refused to have anything to do with the investigation. The great majority of the Committee were full-fledged Spiritualists, and the few whom they claimed to have convinced were simply credulous.
  15. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seems to imagine that all the newspapers in the world are against him. After his Australian tour he accused the Australian papers of refusing to publish the truth about his seances. Writing about American newspapers in his book, "An American Adventure," he says: "The editors seem to place the intelligence of the public very law, and to imagine that they cannot be attracted save by vulgar, screaming headlines.
    "The American papers have a strange way also of endeavoring to compress the whole meaning of some item into a few words of headline, which, as often as not, are slang."
    Even in Canada Sir Arthur claims to have badly used by the newspapers.
    In "Our American Adventure" he writes: "There were some rather bitter attacks in the Toronto papers, including the one leader in the Evening Telegram, which was so narrow and illiberal that I do not think the most provincial paper in Britain could have been guilty of it.
    "It was to the effect that British lecturers took money out of the town, that they did not give the money's worth, and that they should be discouraged.
    "'Poking Them in the Eye' was the dignified title.
    "It did not seem to occur to the writer that a comic opera or a bedroom comedy was equally taking the money out of the town, but that the main purpose served by lectures, whether one agreed with the subject or not, was that they kept the public in first hand touch with the great current questions of mankind. I am bound to say that no other Toronto paper sank to the depth of the Evening Telegram but the general atmosphere was the least pleasant that I had met with in my American travels."
  16. In an article in Truth, April, 1923, entitled "The New Revelation," by Rev. P. J. Cormican, S. J., he asks:
    "Does the knighted prophet of the New Revelation (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) tell the whole truth about Spiritism? We think not. He says nothing about the evil consequences, physical, intellectual and moral, to those who dabble in Spiritism. He gives & one-sided account of the matter. He says nothing about what Spiritism has done, and is still doing, to fill our lunatic asylums allover the world. There are over thirty thousand lunatics in England alone who lost their mind through this modem necromancy. Doyle does not even hint at the countless cases of insanity and suicide, of blasphemy and obscenity, of lying and deception, of broken homes and violated troth, all caused by Spiritism. To suppose that a God of truth and sanctity is giving a new message through such sources and with such consequences, is blasphemy pure and simple. Furthermore, to assert that this New Revelation is to supersede a worn-out creed is both gratuitous and absurd. Christianity will last till the crack of doom, when titled prophets shall have ceased to cross the Atlantic in quest of American shekels."

© arthur-conan-doyle.com